0

Could someone help me identify what these are?

I know that "noun chains" are called "noun phrases", and "verb chains" are called "verb phrases", but I don't know the equivalent for adverbs, adjectives, determiners, pronouns, particles, prepositions, etc.

Noun Phrase

A noun phrase is a chain of nouns like:

Cloud Mountain Hotel

All 3 are nouns, and they form one big noun, the "cloud mountain hotel". Are the first two words adjectives in this context? Or what are they considered?

Verb Phrase

A verb prhase is a chain of verbs like:

Would be going to eat (as in "They would be going to eat")

Here we have 4 verbs chained together (!): would, be, go, eat. What are these parts called in this structure? "To eat" is the infinite verb, that's about all I know. "Would" is an auxiliary verb? Seems like there could be a different name for it. And the others I'm not sure about.

Adjective Phrase

This is where I'm just making stuff up. But an example is:

Big red tree

The "big red" part is two adjectives it seems. What are these parts called relative to the noun "tree"?

You can have super long chains of adjectives (similar to with nouns, but you can't have long verb chains from my experience).

The super lush big reddish green bee hive supporting tree

What are all these "supporting" words called?


Basically, I'm wondering what these supporting words are each called (their type or category in linguistics terms), so I can better search them and research them.


Adverb phrase

Also making this up:

Really quickly run

The verb "run" is preceded by 2 somethings, like adverbs? Can you have long chains of adverbs too, like adjectives?

Other phrase

Not sure what to call these "chains" here, but their parts are things like determiners, prepositions, pronouns, etc.

It is on top of the tree
It is to the left of the tree
It is somewhere deeply in the middle of the tree
It is far away from the tree

Each of these has a few somethings chained together. I get what each one is called individually (II can just google its definition), But what are they called as pieces in these chains?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – prash Jan 25 at 11:12
3

Firstly note that "chain" is sometimes used to refer to serial verb constructions in some languages, so I'd recommend you not call anything a "chain" when discussing linguistics unless you're actually using its formal sense for one of those languages.

Secondly pretty much every part of speech forms a phrase, with the word as its head. Sometimes the phrase may be just the one word, sometimes it may immediately contain another phrase, but it's still a phrase. There are adjective phrases, adverb phrases, determiner phrases (in some linguistic frameworks), prepositional phrases. I'm not sure about whether particles head phrases, it probably depends on the linguistic framework. I can imagine in some generative frameworks they would.

Pronouns and other pro-forms are used to substitute for an entire phrase, and so are the heads of phrases that contain only themselves. But we wouldn't call the phrase of a pronoun a pronoun phrase, just a noun phrase.


A noun phrase is a chain of nouns like:

Cloud Mountain Hotel

All 3 are nouns, and they form one big noun, the "cloud mountain hotel". Are the first two words adjectives in this context? Or what are they considered?

They are not adjectives, but they are modifiers. There are several terms which you can read at the noun adjunct Wikipedia page.


A verb prhase is a chain of verbs like:

Would be going to eat (as in "They would be going to eat")

Here we have 4 verbs chained together (!): would, be, go, eat. What are these parts called in this structure? "To eat" is the infinite verb, that's about all I know. "Would" is an auxiliary verb? Seems like there could be a different name for it. And the others I'm not sure about.

With X number of verbs you have X number of verb phrases, nested inside each other.

Yes, would is an auxiliary verb. This one marks habitual aspect.


This is where I'm just making stuff up. But an example is:

Big red tree

The "big red" part is two adjectives it seems. What are these parts called relative to the noun "tree"?

You can have super long chains of adjectives (similar to with nouns, but you can't have long verb chains from my experience).

The super lush big reddish green bee hive supporting tree

What are all these "supporting" words called?

They're just adjectives or modifiers. Also, anything which is optionally added to a phrase like that is called an adjunct, which contrasts with arguments, the essential parts of a phrase required by its head. And yes, you can also have very long structures of verb phrases, especially with infinitive verbs.

I don't think there's any particular terminology for having lots of adjectives (although in literature it's called purple prose).


Also making this up:

Really quickly run

The verb "run" is preceded by 2 somethings, like adverbs? Can you have long chains of adverbs too, like adjectives?

Yes, they are adverbs. Yes you can have many of them. You can have many of most word classes in a sentence, except for articles and determiners, that's a key phenomenon called recursion.


Not sure what to call these "chains" here, but their parts are things like determiners, prepositions, pronouns, etc.

It is on top of the tree
It is to the left of the tree
It is somewhere deeply in the middle of the tree
It is far away from the tree

Each of these has a few somethings chained together. I get what each one is called individually (II can just google its definition), But what are they called as pieces in these chains?

Those aren't phrases, they aren't anything from a syntax perspective. I guess you could call them sentence fragments, if you typed them into Word that's what it's "grammar" checker would complain about.

For them to be a phrase you have to include their constituents/arguments.

| improve this answer | |
  • Very exhaustive and pertinent comment! From a syntactic perspective "on top of the tree" "to the left of the tree" count as prpepositional phrases (PPs) event though in this case they are not supplementary adjuncts but arguments of the locative copula "be". – user27758 Jan 24 at 23:01
  • @Nico Yes, but "on top of" is not a phrase, which is what the OP was asking about. – curiousdannii Jan 24 at 23:02
  • Syntactically it is a PP, more precisely a conventionalized merging of 2 PPs: on top+of the.. – user27758 Jan 24 at 23:07
  • @Nico But without "the tree", the phrase isn't complete, whether it's one PP or two. – curiousdannii Jan 24 at 23:08
  • @Nico I think dannii is saying that "on top of" is not a phrase. "On top of the desk" is, but you can't extract, substitute, cleft, etc "on top of" while leaving "the desk" behind. – Draconis Jan 24 at 23:08
3

"Phrase" has a specialized meaning in syntax. The details are complicated and depend on the particular theory of syntax you're using, but for a quick-and-dirty approximation, a group of words is a phrase if it acts as a single unit, and the type of phrase is determined by a special word within it called the head. This means that Clara, apples and oranges, and Cloud Mountain Hotel are all noun phrases.

The "chaining" you're talking about is formally called apposition, which means something like "putting two phrases of the same type next to each other to make a new one". (The two phrases are then said to be apposed.) In English, this is common with nouns, but not with any other type of word: you can't say *"on my days off, I like to relax watch movies", for example. You need to add an "and", in a process called conjunction. (When you do this, the phrases are conjoined.)

When you "chain" adjectives or adverbs together, this also isn't apposition: each adjective is attaching separately as an adjunct of the noun (so they're said to be adjoined to the noun). When you have a noun phrase like "big red horse", the structure looks something like this, when you draw out all the intermediate levels:

X-bar tree

Constituency tests show that "red horse" is a unit, and "big red horse" is a unit, but "big red" is not. For example, you can't pull those two words out and separate them from "horse": *"The horse was big red". (But "the horse was big and red"—"big and red" is a unit.) Your "other phrases" like "on top of" and "far away from" similarly fail these tests, so they aren't single units.

This sort of thing is an entire branch of linguistics, with a wide variety of different theories about how this works. If you want to explore it more deeply, I'd suggest getting a good textbook (or good introductory class) on syntax; many people would (and will) disagree with the specific explanations I used here, but going over all the different possible explanations would fill volumes!

| improve this answer | |
  • Good explanation, but I think using a simpler tree would make it easier for newcomers to linguistics to understand – Gaston Ümlaut Jan 24 at 23:16
  • But what about "big red" being "The Big Red", like some other meaning like "The overpowering force of red color". Then "the big red horse" you could take just "the big red" and get "the big red (overpowering force of color red)". I don't know. It's just that people aren't typically familiar with this meaning, so they wouldn't know to think of it. It is why I am starting to say that "red" is a noun, verb, and adjective in my own tools. – Lance Pollard Jan 25 at 0:14
  • Even here, "big" can also be considered a noun, verb, and adjective, in an extremely general sense. We easily get nouns by saying the before it. "The above", "the below", "the big", etc. But how about "To big", "I big the cake", make it big. Etc. Everything can be considered these 3 parts of speech in the end. – Lance Pollard Jan 25 at 0:15
  • 2
    No, "big" is an adjective. The case you mention: "The Big Red" as for pubs, teams or whatever, is the diachronic result of an ellipsis along the lines of "the big red (pub). I don't know how Chomsky and fellows would analyze it, but to me it looks like a conventionalized formulaic NP that cannot and need not be broken down. – user27758 Jan 25 at 0:24
  • 1
    @LancePollard As a native speaker, I would say *"I big the cake" is ungrammatical. There are certain specific contexts that let English adjectives be used as nouns, but it's definitely not true that all morphemes can be used as all parts of speech. – Draconis Jan 25 at 1:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.